UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Honore de Balzac et son theatre Duncan, Paul Brayton


In studying the theatre of Balzac it is necessary to look at the financial conditions of the writer of the Comédie Humaine who began by writing a tragedy in the classical genre at the age of nineteen and then abandoned plays in favor of novels because of adverse reactions to his first attempt. For seventeen years, Balzac wrote novels, yet increased his debts; finally he turned to the writing of a play, hoping to earn enough money to ease his financial burden. From 1837 to the end of his life he was gripped by the double obsession of having a literary success in the theatre and of producing a play which would bring him large receipts. Continuing his prodigious work as a novelist, he was never able to rid himself of the feeling that in the theatre there was both a literary and a financial success waiting for him. Consequently he periodically returned to playwriting in an attempt to satisfy his ambitions. The Correspondance of Balzac, including general letters and the letters to Madame Hanska, make many allusions to the hopes the writer had for his success in the theatre. At the same time his complaints about his indebtedness ring out with much force. Often Balzac ties the two together by saying that he could pay his debts if only he could succeed with a play. Thus, it is necessary to lean heavily on the Correspondance of Balzac to find the information essential to an interpretation of Balzac as a dramatist. Aside from the information contained in Balzac's letters and commentaries by contemporaries such as Théophile Gautier, Léon Gozlan, and other critics, it is somewhat difficult to find extensive information about Balzac and his attempts at drama. However, some secondary sources have been used to support findings in the letters or to elaborate on the interpretation of some aspect or another of Balzac as a writer and as a debtor. A third source of information has been the sis plays themselves. A resume and an analysis of each play shows the themes which preoccupied Balzac, usually dealing with some realistic aspect of the mores of bourgeois society or having a financial motif. A study of the plays also shows development in Balzac's theatrical writings and demonstrates that he was coming to a point of accomplishment at the time he wrote his last play, only two years before his death. One concludes that, pushed by the desire to earn large sums of money to pay his debts, Balzac was less careful in writing plays than novels. Thinking only of finishing as quickly as possible in order to put the play on the stage, he fell into a trap of his own making, being somewhat careless about the actual writing of the plays and giving far too much attention to finding a theatre and getting partisans to the premiere. On the other hand, it is obvious that he was on the track of a new kind of theatre—realistic theatre reflecting the mores of the society in which he lived, much as he described society in detail in his Comédie Humaine.

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